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Four Weeks and A Day

Strong.  So very strong.  If there is one thing I saw and one thing I heard from her friends and the medical professionals who helped her these last four weeks, it was that she was so very strong.  The recurring phrase was “she has a strong heart.”

There were two days on which she didn’t want to die; her friend Barbara’s birthday (which was the day before Good Friday) and Easter Sunday.  She made sure that didn’t happen.

On Easter, her energy levels began to decline.  She slept more and talked less.  I stayed with her that afternoon after church and then I returned on Monday and spent most of the day with her.  She slept while I read and wrote most of these blog posts about her last month.

When she’d first gone home with hospice, hospice nurses arrived to care for her.  After a couple of days, they deemed that she wasn’t close to “end of life” so they pulled out- insurance rules- and we hired home health aides to care for her around the clock.  We always made sure a family member was there as well and friends visited her often.

On Tuesday morning, I stopped by to check on her before going to work.  I noticed that she was breathing differently.  There was a gurgling, congestive sound, to her breathing.  With the help of one of the aides, we turned on the oxygen to help her breathe.  The previous day, the hospice care manager had been to visit and again they told us, “She’s not quite end of life yet.  She’s getting closer.  But when she changes, you will know.”

I paged the case manager with a list of things I needed to go over and to request some additional medication for Mom.  The aide had informed me that we were running low.  At the end of our conversation, I remembered the change in her breathing, so I mentioned it to the case manager.  Three or four times, she asked me to describe it.

“I’ll be there in an hour,” she said, “If what you’re describing is what I think it is, then she’s nearing the end.  Your first priority to make sure that you’ve made arrangements with a funeral home.”

I spent the next hour asking people for recommendations and calling a couple of different funeral homes.

The case manager called me when she was on her way to Mom’s and I figured that meant I had fifteen or twenty minutes.  My phone rang five minutes later.  No hello, how introduction, just “She’s intermittent.”

“I’ll be there in five.”

It was two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.  The case manager informed us that Mom had taken a turn.  “I think she has less than forty-eight hours, but she could linger longer.  We’re going to bring our hospice nurses back in- one will be here this afternoon- and we’ll make sure that your Mom is comfortable.”

As I’ve said, I learned things in the process that I never would’ve imagined- things that I probably wouldn’t have wanted to learn, but things that are part of the living and dying process that I needed to learn to be with her in these days.  I learned about breaths per minute, vital signs, medicines, and so much more.

I called my brothers and let them know the situation.

A nurse arrived for the afternoon and then another for that evening.   Everyone thought she was close.  I stayed up until four in the morning with Mom.  I alternated sitting and laying in a wicker love seat that does not contour to any human body, at least one that is taller than five feet.  I passed the night talking with the hospice nurse, who cared for Mom as if she were her own mother.

At four, I looked at the nurse and asked, “She’s not going tonight, is she?”

Her blood pressure and heart rate had remained strong all night long.  “No, I don’t think she is.”

I crawled into a bed in a spare room, slept for a couple of hours, went home to see Samuel before school, and then I went back to Mom’s.  I stayed all day with no significant change.  Her strong heart continued beating.

At four on Wednesday afternoon, the nurse gave her a sponge bath and when she finished, Mom opened her eyes.  She could mouth words and although I’ve never been the best lip reader, I did my best to interpret.  I explained all that was going on and everything that we were doing for her.  She and I spoke as best we could for a couple of hours.  Eventually, she drifted back to sleep.

One of the questions, hospice asked me was, “Have you given your Mom permission to go?”

“Yes,” I said and in my mind I thought, “but I don’t think she’s about to start listening to me.”

On Thursday, I came by before work, at lunch, and after work.  Nothing had changed.  Her strong heart continued beating.

On Friday, I’d been by in the morning and at lunch and then the nurse called me to let me know the case manager had arrived.  When I got there, they explained that there’d been more changes and she was even closer.  Her hands and feet were cold, a sign that she was getting close.  We sat and watched her, telling stories about her, particularly the wedding of Rob and Jeanine.

“Last July, my mom was on this makeshift dance floor looking out at the Pacific Ocean, dancing with all these people in their twenties and thirties.  She had the time of her life.  There was a smile plastered on her face the entire day.”

An hour later, warmth had returned to her body.

“Your mother is a very strong woman,” the case manager said.

I stayed a little longer and then I went to the airport to pick up Rob.  When he’d left the week before, she’d sat up and talked to him in bed for an hour.  I tried to prepare him for what he was going to see.  I’d seen her every day, so the progressions were slow and not as drastic.  For anyone who missed a day or two, the changes could seem alarming.

I’d been with the nurses so much, talked with them, asked them what they were doing, that I found myself going through their checklists.  Watching her lungs and counting her breaths per minute, touching her feet and hands, checking this and that.  The only thing I didn’t do was check her blood pressure.

Her friends continued to come and see her, some staying just a minute, others sitting by her bedside for a couple of hours.  She was peaceful, resting, and free from pain.  She’d been that way since Tuesday.

“Your mother has such a strong heart,” the nurses kept telling me.

“Well,” I replied, “I hope I have her heart.”

Friday marked one month since the first doctor had told her she had one to three months to live.  We’d been through a lot in those four weeks, many ups and downs, buckets of tears, and remarkably a lot of laughter.

Saturday morning and afternoon she remained the same.  Warm, slight fever, heart still pumping away.

We left the house a little after four.

I told the nurse, “Maybe she’ll let go if we’re not here.”

Twenty minutes later, the nurse called me to let me know that Mom had passed.  Four weeks and a day had passed since her diagnosis.

For her, there is relief.  No more pain, no more cancer, no more suffering.  She lived her life vibrantly and for today.  She didn’t give a thought to tomorrow, next week, or even next year.  Whatever happened then, happened.  Only today mattered.  And having fun and being with the people she loved.  That’s what made her today so special.

Every time I left, I told her the same thing, “You will be missed, but you will not be forgotten.”

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Pamela Stout
    April 15, 2012 at 6:55 am

    My heart is breaking and I will miss her so much. She was my best friend and always was there for me no matter what. I hated it when she moved away from Mckinney but now looking back at it was the best thing she could of done. It gave her so much more time with you all and of course Samuel. The apple of her eye. My prayers are with you all. The other Pam:(

  2. Laurie
    April 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Chris, I am so sorry to read that your mom
    Is no longer here with you, but I do rejoice that as one of our youth said Wednesday night”she is partying with Jesus”

  3. Betsy Isley
    April 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Hey Chris,

    I use to work with your Mom at Unicare. Actually she was the one who hired me! I agree with everyone your Mom did have a strong heart! She may have been tough on the outside sometimes but she also had a tender heart! She loved and talked about her boys all the time & her precious Samuel! She will be missed by all who knew her! My prayers are with you & your family during this time & rejoice to know one say we will see her again!

    Betsy Isley

    • April 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you for your kind words and thoughts

  4. Bonnie and Bobby Steward
    April 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    We are praying for you and your family. It’s a good feeling when you know that they are with Jesus to suffer no more. Many years ago the Lord gave me the opportunity to experience the peace that passes all understanding and that helped me when my Dad went to be with him. She is in such an amazing place. I know you will miss her very much.

    Bonnie & Bobby

  5. Harriet Shipman
    April 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Letting go and saying goodbye is the hardest thing. I worked with Pam at unicare and Condidered her a good friend Pam you will be missed but not ever forgotten, Love. HARRIET Shipman

  6. Sarah Ferguson
    April 15, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing Pam’s story with us. I worked with her at Unicare and she was a great woman. May peace and unconditional love be with your family now and for many days to come.

    • April 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you for your thoughts

  7. lynne
    April 16, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Hello from Hardin-Simmons days. I am sorry to hear about your mom passing. I am praying for you this week. Your writing is so good, Chris. I’ve read some of your posts and I think I need to check out your book!
    Lynne (Woodward) Bridgeman and family

    • April 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you for the thoughts and the comments on the writing. I hope you enjoy the book!
      I think you were one of the first people I met at HSU and I appreciated your reaching out to me.

  8. Eric Findl
    April 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Chris and Family,
    I am the husband of Joann Brown-Findl. I Eric met your mom at one of the many times she and the Stouts got together. She has been a very determined person, and a very friendly person to new people. She had always been quite nice to me and Joann. I enjoyed the time we have spent with your mom. I surely hope all thoes that have been apart of her life are able to remember her for a long time. I send my condolences to you and yours. As soon as we are notified of arrangements we would like to attempt any services planned.

    • April 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you very much. She’ll be missed but not forgotten.

  9. Paulette Chester
    April 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    I use to work with your mom at Unicare and I am so sorry to hear she is gone, but I know she believed in God and that means she is in perfect peace. I went through the same thing with my mom. It was so hard just watching her laying there those last days, but I knew she would be going home with the Lord and that gave me peace. God Bless you and your family.

    Paulette Chester.

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